Commercial Advertisement

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Commercial advertising has a long history in China. As commerce developed and competition increased, resourceful merchants had to think of various ways to promote their goods. One of the simplest and earliest methods was to hawk one's wares by shouting in the market. Another possibility was to sponsor entertainment that would grab potential customers' attention. From very early times, vendors also hung wooden signs or colorful flags outside of their stalls as a form of advertisement.  For those who were not able to read, such signs were easy indicators of the nature of the shop.   

What kind of shop do you think the banner on the left advertised?


Shop sign




The Song dynasty (960-1276) saw important developments in the commercial arts.  To the right is one of the first advertising handbills that were printed. It included a trademark -- a white rabbit holding a sewing needle -- appropriate for a needle shop.


Compare the banner above with the handbill.  Can you think of some of the advantages and disadvantages of each?


Advertisement for Jinan Liu's Fine Needle Shop, Shandong Province, Song Dynasty 


This section focuses on the commercial advertisements of the Republican   Period (1911-1949). This was a time of great social and economic change in China.  By the early 20th century many of China's cities had become major commercial, industrial, and trade centers.  Wooden placards and flags were still very common in front of shops during this time. The photo below shows a busy commercial district in Beijing in the early 20th century. 


At the same time, with more and more foreign companies in China looking for markets for their goods, merchants sought new ways to reach a mass audience.   This was particularly true in the bustling urban areas along the eastern coast.  Advertising agencies in cities such as Shanghai responded to the increase in foreign clientele by demanding artists who had been trained in Western methods.  Many Chinese artists went abroad to study Western art and design and returned to apply new ideas to ads for foreign products.

Beijing street in the early 20th century        source

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